New Orleans has always been a mecca for writers. Readings and open mics are how New Orleans gets to interact with its writers.
The Blood Jet Poetry Series is run by Megan Burns, Tom Andes, and Todd Cirillo. It is in the back of BJ’s Lounge (4300 Burgundy St.) on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. every spring and fall. The wall is covered with anachronistic signs. Chairs and tables are mismatched to make an aisle that leads to the writer. In many ways, it feels like the quintessential New Orleans reading.
There are two featured readers every Wednesday, with a small open mic that follows. Burns told me, “Each season we also try to solicit from a wide enough range to create a diverse line-up that promotes inclusiveness, and personally, I lean towards more experimental preferences in works I like to see on the stage.” The writers who read at Blood Jet are a mixture of people invited by Burns, writers who query Burns, and traveling writers. Once a month, Andes curates a fiction night.
Burns said, “I am in constant awe of the humans who get up in front of a room and share their innermost thoughts and works to sometimes a room full of strangers. We are always more alike than we realize, and we are always in need of being seen and practicing the art of seeing each other. That is poetry.”
Dogfish is on the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. It is run by four people: Jessica Kinnison, Taylor Murrow, Alex Jennings, and Cate Root. According to Root, in order to pick who reads at the event, they “meet several times a year to talk about whose work we're excited about, who might bring new people to Dogfish, and how we can better serve our community with this event.” Like Blood Jet, there are typically two features who precede the open mic.
Dogfish is a reading series that happens in the St. Roch neighborhood. The moment you step into the house and are greeted by Kinnison, you appreciate that you have been invited into someone’s home for an experience. There are wines and beers up front, some snacks in the back. During Carnival season, they had king cake. As Root told me, “I want them to feel how you feel sitting around a campfire, sharing stories with people you love. I want them to feel seen and heard and warm and full. I want them to smell wood and smoke in their hair the next day. I want to feel lucky, sleepy, and excited for the next one.”
Chuck Perkins is a spoken word poet who runs the open mic series Poetry on Poets. As one of the partners of Café Istanbul (2372 St. Claude Ave.), he imagined that he would be performing even more with his own space. That has not been the case. One of the interesting aspects of running his open mic on Monday nights is that it forces him back to reading his own work.
Poetry on Poets happens every Monday night at 9 p.m. at Café Istanbul. Unlike the other reading series mentioned here, Poetry on Poets is strictly an open mic. Also, unlike other series, this one includes poets, musicians, visual artists, and whoever else would like to contribute or express themselves.
Perkins told me his goal with the series is to have “different voices [perform]. Different people with different experiences. That we can be honest. We don’t always agree with each other, but we can be respectful.”
Nancy Harris runs the Maple Leaf’s reading series that started in 1979. Quite a few people say that it is the longest-active reading series in the city. She has accepted this, and no one seems to question her.
The official title of the reading series is the “Everett Maddox Memorial Poetry Readings at the Maple Leaf.” Everett Maddox was a writer and one of the founders of the reading series. When he passed away, Harris started leading the series. The reading series happens on Sundays “except for hurricanes and football games,” around 3 p.m. The last time I went, I heard someone practicing saxophone in the background.
Maple Leaf is an open mic that sometimes has featured readers. It is a relaxed environment and has a lot of poets who have read there for a long time. Harris hopes that “people will come away with different attitudes or learn things. That’s why I like to have a lot of out-of-town poet reads, because I like to see what is happening around the country.”
Esoterotica happens every other Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the AllWays Lounge. Co-producer Aime’ SansSavant told me that their erotica-oriented show has “everything from really sensual language to the down and dirty.” Some writers are poets, others are fiction writers or essayists. They all have different styles, but they all commit to a theme for each show.
While Esoterotica features a regular group of readers, there is the ability for “virgin readers” and writers who are not among the regular group to contribute by submitting a piece to the group in advance. If it fits, they can be added to the billing. This series, similar to Perkins’s, forces the members of the group to perform often and helps them improve. Esoterotica does deal with some more taboo sexual subjects. Aime’ stressed that she wants to create a safe space for the writers and audience to experience the work. Photos and videos are not allowed at the show. The AllWays Lounge brings a low stage, to keep the readers near level with the audience. You can sit close or around the bar. Engage in the writing any which way you like. Aime’ told me, “Sexuality and language are two integral parts of humanity. Erotic is now the redheaded stepchild of lit. It is a beautiful and cognitive experience of writing.”
While being a writer can be a solitary pursuit, the beauty of performing one’s writing is that you can let people experience your work in a new way. And you also experience the work in a different way. The story gets to live in a new space and share that space with other writers and stories. These readings help New Orleans continue to contribute to the written word—to continue to contribute a line, a word, a moment, to the book of New Orleans literature, that continues to be written and read by many.